Link found between microcephaly and congenital cytomegalovirus

Newborns diagnosed with congenital cytomegalovirus (CMV) were at increased risk for microcephaly compared with newborns who did not have a congenital CMV diagnosis, according to new research led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Many adults in the U.S. become infected with cytomegalovirus, though it does not often cause problems in healthy people. It is possible for mothers to pass along the virus to newborns; those cases are known as congenital cytomegalovirus.

The study examined data from two large databases that included information on more than 2 million pregnancies. The prevalence of microcephaly—a condition that affects the circumference of a baby’s head and is associated with abnormal brain development—was 232 times higher in newborns with a congenital CMV diagnosis compared with newborns who did not have a congenital CMV diagnosis, according to the findings.

The researchers also noted that they were surprised by the low frequency of CMV screening among live-born infants in the U.S. After correcting for potential testing bias, the prevalence ratio for microcephaly comparing infants with a congenital CMV diagnosis to those without was 7.4.

“While our results do not speak to potential preventive measures, greater attention to CMV by physicians and public health officials may be warranted,” Chelsea Messinger, lead author and a PhD student in Population Health Sciences at Harvard Chan School, said in a September 17, 2020 Reuters article.

Other Harvard Chan School authors include Marc Lipsitch, Krista Huybrechts, Sarah MacDonald, Katrina Mott, and Sonia Hernández-Díaz.

Read the Reuters article: Congenital CMV Tied to Increased Prevalence of Microcephaly